We will never forget our children

By Jessica Elgot, October 11, 2011
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Dozens of parents of stillborn babies have contacted the JC claiming they were misled about the whereabouts of their children's graves, including by officials from the Jewish Joint Burial Society (JJBS) which serves Reform, Masorti and Liberal communities.

As we reported last week, scores of parents were misinformed by United Synagogue officials in the 1960s and 1970s. They were told that babies who died before they were 30 days old would be buried in the grave of an unknown, recently deceased mother, and that the burial place would be kept from the parents.

But in the past months, parents have discovered children buried in Bushey and Waltham Abbey cemeteries, in their own, unmarked, plots. Many who have contacted the JC this week still do not know where their babies were buried.

Edmund and Yvonne Goldstein lost their son in November 1972, and sought advice from Edgware Reform Synagogue. Their son was buried by the JJBS. Mr Goldstein said: "We were told he was with another adult, not even a mother. Years later, they erected a little plaque in Cheshunt Cemetery, which said 'Baby Goldstein', not even the name we gave. I still have no idea where our baby is."

Marion Chapman, from Isleworth, had twins in March 1970. One was stillborn and the second died three months later. "When the second twin died they told me he would be buried at Hoop Lane [a JJBS cemetery]. I asked if they could tell me where my other son was; only then was I told that he was buried in Hoop Lane too, but I have no idea where."

They erected a little plaque in Cheshunt cemetery, which said 'Baby Goldstein', not even the name we gave. I still have no idea where our baby is.

Edmund Goldstein

Marion Harvey, whose stillborn son died in 1968, also entrusted the burial to the JJBS. "We were told he would be buried in the grave of a mother. I suppose I drew comfort from the thought that he was not on his own and I am now devastated that he was merely put into the ground without anyone to say goodbye or to visit him and mourn. I have contacted the Reform with my details. We will make sure he is honoured and will erect a stone in his memory."

Ben Rich, Reform's chief executive, said: "We will do everything and anything we can to help parents try and trace what happened, as far as records allow. JJBS was established in 1969 and since then, babies and foetuses have been given their own plots, but before then, individual synagogues made arrangements."

The United Synagogue said it had also received many calls and that its own investigation is ongoing. A trustee has been appointed to oversee the investigation. In a lengthy email to members, chief executive Jeremy Jacobs said: "The need to deal sensitively with this issue is well understood. "

Israeli Medi Alfasa's daughter died at the Royal Free Hospital in June 1976. "I wanted to have a small service, or give a name to my daughter, but all anyone would tell me was 'it has been taken care of.' I called again, and they put the phone down on me. I would like to put it right now, but I still do not know where she is."

Former JNF honorary officer Clive Rosen, from Southgate, who was also misled about the burial of his son, who lived just five hours, said he was willing to set up a group to act on behalf of families affected and urged other parents to get in touch with him.

Many parents are still angry about the treatment they received. Southgate-based Ruth Sloneem and her husband were told by Kenton Synagogue, 35 years ago, that their synagogue fees were six months in arrears and no help would be given after their baby's death, until the fees were paid. "They were such heartless people at such a terrible time," Mrs Sloneem said.

"Once we paid up, we were told the baby was buried with a woman. That was a load of rubbish. When we were arranging a stone for my father at Waltham Abbey, we found in the records that our baby was buried there in an unmarked grave. It is a disgraceful situation and I hope that things are very different now."

Last updated: 11:35am, October 11 2011